In the land of Jamon Iberico....

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Saturday, November 5, 2011

We were running a bit short of time to meet Jane & John in Lisbon so we jumped on a train from Barcelona to Caceres, just west of Madrid and started heading for Portugal. For the first few days we were in shock mode at the change in culture and landscape. When moving at bike speed the landscape normally changes quite gradually, but we had taken a bit of a jump from France and were now in the Extremadura region of Spain, apparently the least populated area of Europe. It certainly felt like there was a lot less people and a lot more open space. We've been wild camping by the side of beautiful rivers, visiting deserted towns, riding through savannah-like plains, and through some very dramatic mountain ranges (well it was hardly the alps...just lots of hills strung together, but the map said they were mountains, I promise!). We concluded that it felt more like being in Africa than in Europe.

                              

A lot of the farms we passed seemed to covered in acorn trees, which confused us - what are acorn crops used for? We then occasionally noticed a herd of semi-wild, dark brown pigs running amongst the trees. This was a clue, and when we stopped in at the next town we learnt that this area was famous for its Jamon Iberico. Apparently the pigs can only have this classification if they come from the Extremadura region and they gain at least 50% of their body weight by feasting during the acorn season in autumn. This was definitely an example of free-range pig farming and it was very interesting to see it up close. We tried to stop and photograph some of the pigs, but perhaps they could sense our drooling enthusiasm as they kept running away from us.



Once in Portugal both the towns and the hills got bigger, grander and closer together. We missed the Spanish respect for cyclists, as the drivers got a lot ruder unfortunately. We assume that there is a lot less cycling in Portugal.

This suspicion was backed up by the extraordinary amount of attention we received every time we stopped in a town. We were daily entertainment for all the old men sitting out the front of the local bars. We'd stop for a coffee and the men would gather around to inspect our bikes and us, shake their heads in wonder and confusion, and ask us what the hell we were doing (well we assume that was the question). I think they thought we were crazy, but they obviously also thought we needed some energy to power us on our way because we were often treated to extra pieces of cake with our coffee.

We started to see some very big churches, in surprisingly small towns. It's hard not to be aware of the amazing amount of wealth that Portugal has had in its past, and that most of that wealth has gone to the Catholic church, when you see the grandeur of the cathedrals and monasteries. However sometimes they felt at odds with their surroundings. Nowhere more so than Fatima, a very important site of pilgrimage, which had not one, but two massive cathedrals. They were quite beautiful, especially the new building, but step outside of the central religious area and the town doesn't even have footpaths, just patches of dirt next to the streets. Something felt a bit wrong with the way the money was being spent in that town .



Jane and John couldn't wait to see us in Lisbon, so they drove out to meet us a few days in advance, and to rub in the fact that they could drive in a couple of hours what would take us a few days riding. We visited Batalha and Sintra together, including some quite astonishing palaces, and we were spoiled with some amazing meals. But most importantly we did a lot of catching up. It was lucky they came earlier than planned because we needed as much talking time as possible. Even though we stay in regular Skype contact, we were still so out of date with each other's news. And of course nothing beats a hug from your mum, so it was lovely to have that chance a few days earlier than expected!

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Comments

Vera Batalha on

Hey Alex and Jason,

Only just saw the Portugal entry! Can you believe it - I must have missed it.
Hah! Glad you went to Batalha - yeah, that's a little ol' church built for me :-b
Hope the travels are still awesome!
When will we ever see you again.

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